Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sticking to Instincts -- Paradoxical Thinking

The danger, for me, is always to feel something, then associate my feeling with a perspective, or belief, or ineffable muttering, and become emotionally attached to the idea that I think follows [but which does not necessary imply what I think it does, all the time]. How does this work?  Well, for instance, an egalitarian viewpoint come to mind immediately: inequality is wrong. The question is more about framing, context, and degrees of severity, than it is about carte blanche thinking. Fairness, I think, is almost a genetic predisposition--we feel that it is right to be fair.  We know it.  We don't know what it means, but the fairness instinct is pricked when we say things like "Inequality is wrong." Why?  Well, inequality isn't fair, because it cannot be fair that so many people, let's say 99/100 of them in an average city block of a random city, have assets equivalent to 50,000 dollars, and 1 of them has assets equivalent to 500,000 dollars, especially when we perceive the 50,000 dollar folks to suffer because of things that money could solve.

What's much harder to measure is that there could be a justified reason for the discrepancy.  Indeed, that the 50,000 folks might be in a 500 dollar category, even, were it not for the resultant rewards of the 500,000 person.  Maybe not possible, but not impossible either.  If we accept the precept that I just laid out, though, then then inequality might seem justified.  I could also justify it by saying that the 500,000 person saved an equivalent of 500 more lives than the other people on the block, basically that his or her social worth is equivalent to his or her financial worth.  That's why we generally don't balk at doctors making huge sums of money, because we've bought in to the precept that their jobs are carte blanche justified in terms of social value and financial compensation.

We don't go around testing such things.  We don't have to. Instead, we use black and white thinking, and instincts--at least more often than not--to justify what we feel is the case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not the doctors who are making the huge sums of money. It's the medical-industrial complex that continues to allow the rich to get richer.